(No dowry posts or any posts for that matter last week. Apologies if you were keeping a watch out- I flatter myself. I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and an overload at work- which persists this week also. So this post shall be rushed and incoherent and pompous and Aym Gramd. Sorry. Things may improve next week.)
Okay. The prevailing wisdom is that dowry is a bad thing. But why?
Two reasons that I can think of.
The first is that huge dowry demands strain the finances of the brides’ parents, and could clobber their standard of living. (Ravikiran earlier pointed out over email that the bride herself benefits from the dowry being transferred to her new household.) We dislike the idea of one family transferring all its wealth to another family and getting nothing in the bargain.
The other reason is that the thought of brides and grooms as commodities to be bought and sold appalls our conscience. We are liberal enough to be repulsed at the thought of trading people.
Which is where the problem lies. Liberality goes only so deep and so broad in the Indian context. The vast majority of people are not liberal. The ones who are are not liberal enough to reject years of tradition.
Dowry is being kept alive by a lack of liberal values. Once those values spread dowry will go away. The problem is that values take bloody long to spread. Until that happens, the next best thing is the economic incentives I described here.
Next in the series: the origins of dowry.